Palestinian Americans handcuffed in Israeli detention center, witnesses say

JILJILYA, West Bank – By the time dozens of Israeli soldiers rushed to withdraw from the village, witnesses said, the face of the 78-year-old man they held for an hour had turned pale from lack of oxygen.

Hours earlier, the man, Omar Abdelmajed Assad, was in high spirits, his family said, playing cards and drinking coffee, and optimistic he would soon be able to move freely between the places. his birth on the West Coast and his adoptive home in the United States. Ky, where his descendants live.

Many questions remain about What happened to Assad? from the time he was arrested by Israeli forces around 3am last Wednesday during what they described as a “routine examination” until he was found dead an hour later, face down the ground is cold, it looks like a heart attack.

The Palestinian Authority and the Israeli military are investigating. The US has asked Israel to “clarify” what happened to Mr. Assad, a US citizen.

His family has requested an American investigation, as have several members of Congress.

Interviews with two witnesses, family members and the doctor who tried to resuscitate him show that although Assad was not beaten, as some reports said, he died when he was beaten. detention. An elderly man had a pre-existing medical condition, blindfolded, handcuffed and lying on the ground, conditions that his doctor said were the causes of his death.

Furthermore, one witness said, when the soldiers found out about his condition, instead of getting medical attention, they abandoned him.

However, the circumstances of the final hours were rather bleak, with Mr Assad’s life and death a familiar story for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Many know well the nightmare of Israel’s control of Palestinian identity documents, which means the difference between being able to go abroad or not. And they know the fear of being caught in a raid at night.

Assad was driving to his home in Jiljilya when he was stopped in what the Israeli military described as “a routine inspection”.

“We caught him after he resisted a check, a routine check, where he was questioned,” said Lt Col Amnon Shefler, an army spokesman. “And because of his lack of cooperation and behavior, that’s why they stopped him.”

An hour later, as soldiers left the courtyard where Assad and four others were being held, one of the detainees, Mmdouh Abdulrahman, noticed that Assad was unresponsive, face down on the tiled courtyard. He checked Mr. Assad’s pulse and found nothing, while another detainee ran to a nearby clinic to summon a doctor.

“His face was blue, blue, blue,” said the doctor, Islam Abu Zaher, who tried to revive Assad with CPR and a defibrillator. “You are talking about someone who has been deprived of oxygen for 15 or 20 minutes. This can cause his heart and lungs to stop beating.”

Dr Abu Zaher, who was Mr Assad’s doctor, questioned why an elderly man was “thrown to the ground like a sack” and given no first aid.

“As soon as they saw him unconscious and without a pulse, they quickly retreated to avoid the anger of the village,” he said. “At that point, the chance of resurrecting him was zero.”

The military declined to answer questions about how Mr. Assad was treated while in custody or his condition when soldiers left, saying it was part of an investigation.

Colonel Shefler said: “There is a military police criminal investigation underway looking into the incident and is trying to find out exactly what happened that night.

Like many from this mountain village north of Ramallah, Mr. Assad and his wife, Nazmieh, have traveled abroad in search of economic opportunity. They left in 1970, settling first in Chicago, where Assad worked for many years in his brother-in-law’s grocery store. After more than a decade, the family moved to Milwaukee, where they opened many of their own grocery stores and raised seven children.

The prosperity of Jiljilya’s expatriates, most of whom have traveled to the United States and Brazil, has transformed the village, which is now awash with palatial houses and villas with red and blue tiled roofs, paid for in dollars and real estate. movables.

More than a decade ago, Mr. Assad retired and the couple moved back to Jiljilya.

“This is my country,” Nazmieh Assad, 79, said in an interview. “Even though I’ve been in America since the 70s, at night I always dream of coming back here.”

They returned on a three-month visa, long expired, and since then they have applied for the reinstatement of their residence permit. They want to return to the United States to see their 7 children, 17 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren, but they fear that without their Palestinian identification they will not be allowed to return home.

After Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in 1967, it began a policy of revoking the identity cards of West Bank residents who had moved abroad for more than six years, no longer treating them as residents. An estimated 140,000 Palestinians in the West Bank have lost their residence permits.

That practice ended in 1994 with the signing of the first Oslo accords, but Israel retained control of the Palestinian ID reinstatement approval process.

Last Tuesday night, when Mr. Assad stayed up late playing cards and drinking coffee with his cousins, his mood was high, his wife said, because he knew that the list of those approved was expected to be made public. dad on any day.

Around 3 a.m., he came home.

Even in villages like Jiljilya, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Israeli forces regularly conduct nighttime raids to thwart attacks.

Rada Bakri, a 62-year-old businessman, was awake when he heard screams outside. He looked out his kitchen window and watched as soldiers surrounded a car and its driver, who turned out to be Mr. Assad.

After five minutes of heated exchanges, some soldiers grabbed Assad and dragged him out of his car, said Bakri, who lived for a year in Brazil, where he owns clothing stores.

As he got out of the car, Mr. Assad was blindfolded with his own red and white kaffiyeh and his hands were cuffed behind his back with a black zip-tie, Mr. Bakri and other witnesses said.

“He was an old man,” Mr. Bakri said. “What will he do to them? What kind of resistance will he have? If he’s sitting in a chair, he needs five minutes to get up.”

About 10 minutes later, he said, he saw soldiers dragging Assad about 50 yards up a side street towards the courtyard of a house under construction.

Less than half an hour later, Abdulrahman, a night guard, and a friend, a farmer, were going to a wholesale farmers market in Nablus when they came to the same intersection. .

Mr. Abdulrahman, 52, said: “Soldiers attacked us from all directions.

They were stopped, asked to drive to the same yard where Mr. Assad had been taken, and sat down on the ground. In the darkness, Mr. Abdulrahman did not at first notice Assad lying on his right side.

Moments later, a soldier came to check on Assad, lifting his coat over him, Abdulrahman said. He whispered something to his soldiers. A soldier cut one of the straps on Mr. Assad’s wrist and they quickly left, Mr. Abdulrahman said.

After they left, Mr. Abdulrahman lifted his coat and untied the kaffiyeh, recognizing his friend.

Dr Abu Zaher said that he had been treating Mr Assad for obstructive lung disease in recent months and that about four years ago, his patient had open heart surgery and several stents implanted. Dr. Abu Zaher said the lung disease could make it difficult for Assad to breathe when lying on his stomach.

On Sunday, the living room of the Assads’ two-story home contained what was left of a wake: a caramelized Arabic coffee – traditionally served during funerals – and plump dates in a decorative box.

Mrs. Assad, wearing a black robe with traditional Palestinian embroidery, recalled how her husband had planned travel in anticipation of their names on the ID list.

“He was very happy,” she said. “He said once our names were announced, we would go visit first the eldest son and then the girls in Milwaukee.”

On Tuesday night, just hours before Assad’s arrest, the government released a list with the names of hundreds of people who would receive new Palestinian identification documents.

His and his wife’s names are not on it. Palestinian Americans handcuffed in Israeli detention center, witnesses say

Fry Electronics Team

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